KEF tap fountain of engineering youth for Blade Two at NYAS ’14


NYAS_2014KEF might have formally launched their new Reference Series in May at the Munich High End show this year (detailed here) but it’s taken a further five months to get them in front of Stateside consumers.

At the New York Audio Show in Brooklyn Johan Coorg once again fronts a packed room with a demo that coats a canned structure with a layer of spontaneous music choices. You won’t hear Rebecca Pidgeon here.

Alternating between the Reference 1 standmount (US$7.5K) and the Reference 5 floorstander (US$18K) it’s readily apparent that these speakers aren’t as warm or seductive as the LS50 that redefined the budget sector. The Reference series sound is more direct in its delivery of detail and humongous soundstaging – a silver bullet right between the eyes.

Coorg explains that each pair of Reference is hand made by one guy at the factory and isn’t approved until its measurements match that of the (err) reference pair. KEF claim almost immeasurable distortion in the midrange which translates to an ability to be played ‘unbelievably loud’. But don’t take KEF’s word for it, take mine also. The Reference 5 were cranked with nary a wince from Friday morning’s assembled press gang.


Whilst the Reference Series have the traditional box look, along the side wall a static display reminds us that KEF know how to make loudspeakers with a 21st Century aesthetic: Muon, Blade and LS50. Also, check their M500 headphones (reviewed here) and tell me KEF haven’t set the bar higher for entry level cans. And then consider their X300A active monitors (reviewed here) for one the best desktop monitors in their class.

Anyone wondering how KEF became the hip uncle of the British loudspeaker scene need look no further than their Maidstone engineering team: they’re all young fellas, the eldest of which is only 32! There’s no greater evidence of this fountain of youth than the Uni-Q coaxial driver tech that has trickled down through almost the entire KEF range.

However, we’re told that the number one request to KEF from consumers these past three years has been: “We love the Blade but can you make a smaller version?”. Your wish, their command. Going into production this week is Blade Two so it’s only proper that a pair saw airtime at the Marriott this weekend. The Blade 2 contains just as many parts as its forerunner condensed into an enclosure that measures 66% of the volume. That means 6” bass drivers instead of 9” and a sticker price that comes in at US$24K, 75% that of its bigger brother.


In the Blade Two I see a high-end loudspeaker suitable for smaller living spaces and (especially) apartments; possibly the most visually (and sonically) copacetic match for a Devialet.

Further information: KEF America

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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  1. Hi John. I was at this show and I was looking for you. I even showed your photo to the the security guards and asked them to detain you for imparting inaccurate information about audio gear and thus enabling the theft of good folks’ well-earned money 😉
    Anyways, the KEF room was the first we walked into and these Reference speakers were ‘painful’ to listen to. The treble was piercing. I think they played a jazz tune and it was lifeless, IMHO.
    The very next room I went to was the Audio Connection exhibit where they were demo’ing Vandersteens and I started feeling a bit better.

    • I escaped undetained! Note that I said Reference isn’t as warm or beguiling as the LS50 and that it’s more direct. Perhaps that’s what you heard? I found it far from ‘painful’ though.

  2. I always thought Wilson Benesch was the hip uncle of Britannia, with their penchant for infrasonic generators and funky carbon-composite materials. Maybe not as hip price-wise, though.

  3. John, everyone,
    I’ve had both Reference 1 and Reference 3 at home and found them very neutral – even lacking in a bit of top end air perhaps – with a dCS source. My question is this: what did the Blade 2 sound like compared to the Reference 5?

    • You got me there SimonC – I wasn’t present for the switch around but heard Ref 5 and Blade 2 on separate days. My gut instinct tells me that the Reference series is more in your face than Blade.

  4. Well written review as all of yours are. One comment you made is puzzling: ” There’s no greater evidence of this fountain of youth than the Uni-Q coaxial driver tech that has trickled down through almost the entire KEF range.” The Uni-Q driver has been available from KEF for nearly 30 years. It was originally introduced in about 1986 I believe, in a line of inexpensive bookshelf speakers. The ‘Q Series’.